Long before it hit its current prestige as Canada’s wine-country “Napa North,” Kelowna B.C. was known as an affordable family vacation destination extraordinaire. About a four-hour drive from Vancouver (or fly into its international airport), this interior gem right on Lake Okanagan is straddled by the Cascade and Coast mountain ranges, making for gorgeous sightlines all round. Originally known as the land of “peaches and beaches,” it has, in more recent years, developed a reputation for its world-class wineries, golf courses and booming high-tech sector.
The 100,000-person city offers ample opportunities for food-loving couples and families to bridge its old roots and new outlook. From the annual wine festival to a jaw-droppingly beautiful apple orchard, artesian goat cheese fromagerie to pioneer village, nature walks to spa indulgences, Kelowna’s got something for everyone, whether you’ve left the kids with your folks, or they’re coming with. Here are 7 compelling reasons to head into B.C.’s interior – pronto.
1. The Annual Okanagan Wine Festival
The 2007 festival runs September 28 to October 7, with over 165 food- and wine- oriented events. From guided tastings to free-wheelin’ winery tours, the festival will appeal to newbies and advanced oenophiles alike. See www.thewinefestivals.com for details.
Even if you miss the festival, the wineries still have much to offer in the way of tours and top-notch dining opportunities. Got kids? No worries. Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Mission Hill Family Estate winery both offer more than enough stimulation to keep kids interested.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery is Canada’s largest organic winery and proprietor Stephen Cipes believes that aging all his wines in a four-storey, 8%-scale replica of Egypt’s Great Pyramid imparts them with divine attributes. Tour the limestone-covered pyramid, then visit the winery’s pioneer cottage and First Nations Sacred Earth House.
Cipes is a tad eccentric but his wines have been earning both accolades and awards. Enjoy dinner on the Summerhill Sunset Bistro, with its unforgettable view of Lake Okanagan. Try top-notch regional cuisine like Muscovy duck breast with apricot and summer savory crumble finished with roasted shallots and bee pollen, paired with the winery’s 2004 Gamay Noir.
Mission Hill Family Estate meanwhile, also offers million-dollar views, as well as plenty of manicured lawn for kids to burn energy on, and a barrel room wine tasting that doesn’t leave them out. My five-year-old enjoyed sniffing, swirling and sipping raspberry juice while the rest of us sampled the estate’s award-winning wines.
2. Wine-country pampering for mom
Spa-loving moms (dads, too) will bliss out during Beyond Wrapture Mind & Body Care Day Spa & Retreat’s vinotherapy treatment. This 75-minute body blitz includes a penetrating massage using shea butter and grapeseed oil, blended with your choice of red or white wine. Smells lovely, feels exquisite, and it boasts skin-pampering antioxidant properties, too.
Beyond Wrapture is a six-location Okanagan spa chain owned by local Debra Pender. Set on or near some of the valley’s top resorts, Pender’s spas were among the first to herald the region’s rebirth as a luxury wine-golf-and-spa destination.
3. Resorts “old” and “new”
If you’re travelling with kids, check out two very different, but equally appealing family resorts on opposite sides of 82-mile-long Okanagan Lake. The Manteo Resort Hotel & Villas (one-bedroom suite from $185 per night, www.manteo.com) offers swish suites and villas close to Kelowna’s downtown cultural district. It’s also a short drive away from a bunch of championship-quality golf courses and estate wineries, making it the choice for discerning travellers looking for a “new Kelowna” experience.
The resort’s dockside restaurant (the mild weather makes for an extended alfresco dining season) offers top-notch regional cuisine and attentive service, as well as unexpected visitors like foraging geese.
Lake Okanagan Resort (one-bedroom suites from $199 per night, www.lakeokanagan.com), farther afield on 300 acres of the mountain side of the lake (known as Westbank), offers a more old-school Kelowna experience, with outdoorsy pursuits like horseback riding, and miles and miles of hiking trails.
The restaurant’s food is unambitious but kid-pleasing, and the hot tub and pool offer panoramic views of the city. Concessions to the region’s luxury pursuits include an on-site Beyond Wrapture spa and 9-hole golf course.
Parked the kids with grandma and grandpa? Book yourself into one of the beach house-chic rooms in the new Eldorado Arms wing of the otherwise circa-1926 Hotel Eldorado (from $149 per night, www.eldoradokelowna.com). An onsite marina, wine store and spa cater to your every recreational need. The romantic Lakeside Dining Room has a casual-luxe coastal vibe and the best menu this side of paradise.
4. Kelowna Land & Orchard
Forget the cookie-cutter apple orchards you’re used to hitting back home. KLO elevates the orchard to foodie haven. Kelowna Land & Orchard (www.k-l-o.com) is the 150-acre home to award-winning Raven Ridge Cidery and ab-fab gourmet restaurant, The Ridge.
Founded in 1904 and owned by the Bullock family since 1942, the orchard produces a whopping four million pounds of fruit annually, yet its beauty and charm make one compelled to label it almost a “boutique orchard” – if such a thing could exist. (If it could, it would exist in Kelowna, though.)
Go there for the awesome hilltop view, to feed the free-roaming goats and to observe beautifully hued bantam chickens and roosters cavorting among the rows of apple trees. Sample the ice-wine-style cider made from the nectar of frozen apples, and we guarantee you’ll be buying a case to tote home with you.
5. Natural attractions
Regardless of where you are in Kelowna, chances are you aren’t more than a stone’s throw from an awesome hiking trail. For those looking for trails to run, hike, or otherwise explore, hit the 17-kms of trails at the Mission Creek Greenway (www.greenway.kelowna.bc.ca). If you’re there during the autumn salmon run, you’ll see brightly coloured Kokanee fighting their way upstream to spawn. The onsite Mission Creek Interpretive Centre explains local ecology to young 'uns and has interactive displays they’ll love checking out, as well as a nearby playground.
Another hit is a self-guided tour of Father Pandosy Mission (www.okanaganhistoricalsociety.org/pandosy_mission.html). The first white settlement in the Okanagan, the mission was built in 1859. The settlement was restored and rebuilt in the 1960s by the Okanagan Historical Society. The deserted cabins and workshops can be a bit spooky, but plenty of fun to explore.
6. Downtown Kelowna
Check out the shops, cafes and galleries dotting downtown Kelowna. Yummy mums can stock up on their body-conscious athleisure wear at Lululemon (410 Bernard Ave), as well as the indie shop Blonde (293 Bernard Ave), which carries Itsus, French Kitty and Folkhero, as well as cute giftwares. Posh Gallery (1597 Pandosy St) offers jewelry and accessories in a fun, dog-friendly shopping environment.
Après shopping, be sure to hit Kasugai Japanese Garden (470 Queensway Avenue, behind Kelowna City Hall) , for some peace and quiet. Pea-gravel paths take you past manicured Zen gardens and a pond stocked with robust and colourful koi – the perfect spot to sip your chai, while the kids explore.
7. Country markets
Finally, any foodie worth their salt is going to want to come home with regional delicacies for their fridge and pantry. Kelowna won’t disappoint.
Be sure to visit Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan (www.carmelisgoatcheese.com) for organic goat cheese. Go on a tour and you’ll meet the goats, as well as the charming Israeli expats who founded the dairy and are earning accolades for the 19 types of cheese they produce on site. Carmelis’s Vintage cheese is a must-try, soaked for 5 days in local pinot noir before being aged for one year.
The Pioneer Country Market (www.pioneercountrymarket.com) offers a relaxing place to explore (plus an onsite museum). Enjoy some home-cooking and fresh baked pies. Don’t forget to stock up on regionally produced preserves or crafts.
The open-air Kelowna Farmer’s and Crafter’s Market (www.kelownafarmersandcraftersmarket.com) brings you close to the region’s harvest-fresh produce, in addition to homemade pantry items and fresh munchies you can nosh on the spot. Artisans sell hand-turned wooden bowls and carved utensils, as well as such delicacies as locally grown smoked garlic. Yummy!
Canadian Living Magazine, www.canadianliving.com, Yuki Hayaski
Danielle Grundy, MBA | REALTOR®
CENTURY 21 Assurance Realty Ltd
250.863.2433 | www.daniellegrundy.ca